Spike Lee’s filmic canon embraces documentary, TV, shorts and feature films. But it is through the latter genre that he is best known.
His latest outing, BlacKkKlansman, is based on Ron Stallworth’s autobiography of the same name.
In the 1970s, Stallworth became the first African-American in the Colorado Springs Police Department, eventually becoming a detective. Early in his career, he saw an ad in the local paper, recruiting for the Ku Klux Klan and decided to instigate an under-cover operation to infiltrate the local chapter. He does with the help of a white, Jewish colleague, who is given the name Flip Zimmerman in the film (the real person has chosen to remain anonymous).
Stallworth himself attended the first read-through of the script, but otherwise left the film in the capable hands of Lee.
John David Washington clearly revels in his role as Stallworth, giving him a very watchable persona, dappled with light and shade. In fact this sense pervades the whole film, which never sinks into too much darkness or heavy preaching. There is a great on-screen chemistry between Washington and Adam Driver, as Zimmerman, as there is between him and Laura Harrier, who gives a fine performance as student activist (and Stallworth’s girl-friend) Patrice Dumas. Topher Grace gives an outstanding performance as Grand Wizard, David Duke, who actually called Stallworth while the film was being made, concerned about how he was going to be portrayed.
Lee directs with gentle, guiding hand, allowing his actors room to move, but keeping the work focussed and tight. Barry Alexander Brown’s editing adds to the perfect pacing, and Marci Rodgers just had too much fun in the costume department, with flares and safari suits aplenty.
This is a film about a serious subject. Like all history, it tells us something about ourselves today. Blatant racism has not gone away: it’s just put on different clothing. But don’t think this will be a heavy scene, man. There is plenty of fun in this movie: possibly a testament to a certain mellowing in Lee himself. Above all, this is an enormously enjoyable piece of work.
BlacKkKlansman opens tomorrow at Palace Nova Cinemas Eastend and Prospect.
Check out session times here.